Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - A war of words between Republicans and Democrats over an amendment that would mandate the withdrawal of an unspecified number of troops from Iraq continued Tuesday as Democrats prepared for an all-night session to "dramatize" the dispute ahead of Wednesday's cloture vote.
The Levin-Reed amendment, named for the two Democrats who crafted it, would instruct President Bush to begin a troop withdrawal from Iraq within four months of its passage. It sets an April 30, 2008 deadline to bring U.S. forces to a "limited presence."
The amendment has majority support, but Republicans are expected to block it Wednesday by preventing cloture. Invoking cloture would end debate on the bill and prepare it for a final vote. But supporters must obtain 60 votes to invoke cloture, and Democrats Tuesday were not optimistic they would be able to sway enough Republicans to achieve that goal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an earlier statement that he had "offered the Democrat leadership the opportunity to have a series of votes on Tuesday. They objected. There is no need to further delay votes on these important amendments."
But Democrats accuse McConnell and other Republicans of portraying themselves as in favor of a simple vote on the amendment when they actually plan to stop its progress by blocking cloture without ever having to vote up or down on the amendment itself.
"We are told by the Republican leader that we must get 60 votes," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said at a news conference in the Capitol Tuesday.
The amendment's co-author, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), also criticized the Republican filibuster, complaining that "the vote [Wednesday] is whether we're going to be allowed to vote," and adding that "unless we can get 60 votes we won't be able to vote."
Reed said the bill has bipartisan support thanks to several Republicans who have publicly supported it. They include Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, both of whom appeared at the conference with Reed and other Democrats sponsoring the amendment.
Levin declined to speculate on what would happen if Democrats are unable to garner enough votes to invoke cloture Wednesday. "We don't know what's going to happen if we don't get 60 votes," he told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced this week that the Senate would engage in an all-night session Tuesday if Republicans continued to block an up-or-down vote on the amendment. Levin acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that the move is intended to "dramatize" the fight between Republicans and Democrats.
He said Democrats hope to "make it clear to the public that the issue here is whether or not we'll be allowed to vote."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended the cloture strategy as a normal process used by the minority party. "Time after time when the other side was in the minority they also invoked the 60-vote requirement," he said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference with fellow Republicans who oppose the amendment.
McConnell maintained at the same news conference that Republicans were "anxious to have a vote" and criticized the Democratic plan for an all-night session as "bad theater."
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